August 15, 2008— The first time Army Specialist Frederick Hussey “got blown up in Iraq,” as he says, was on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2006. Hussey was five months into his yearlong deployment as an infantry medic when a cluster of anti-tank explosives jolted his Humvee off the road some 50 miles south of Baghdad. The blast filled the cabin with acrid black smoke, but Hussey was able to jerk the wheel back and steer the truck to safety. “Everybody ended up being OK with that one,” Hussey says. “You know—shook up and all, but there was no loss of life. I would say that one just rang my bell really hard.”
Hussey stands a sturdy 5-foot-10, speaks with a Southern twang, and prides himself on being the only guy the other guys will hug—the papa bear to his fellow cavalry scouts. He worked for 13 years as a grocery-store manager after returning from the Gulf War, and then in 2004 he reenlisted, asking to be a medic because he wanted to help.
The second, third and fourth times Hussey was hit, he was riding in vehicles when they were destroyed by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, buried in the road. During one attack, he took shrapnel to the cheek and was briefly knocked out. Another one earned him a patch that reads “IED bait” from his buddies. But each time he managed to walk away.
Number five was the worst. He and six others from his platoon were patrolling on foot near their base when an IED blew everyone off the road. “The last thing I remember was seeing my feet in the sky,” Hussey says. “I could hear them hollering for a medic, so I got up, but I kept falling over. I think that’s where my headaches and my hearing damage came from.” He was back on patrol inside of a week.
Hussey was “functioning at about 75 percent,” he says, when two weeks later a rocket-propelled grenade delivered his final blast of the war, exploding against a cement wall 20 yards away as he tried to hustle an injured soldier to safety. It knocked him down but didn’t knock him out—another close call.
Or so he thought. Within a year of his return home, Hussey was told he had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychological condition that can develop in the emotional aftermath of a life-threatening event. He was also diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury, the medical term for concussion. Only there’s nothing mild about it. His experience left him with constant headaches, nausea, garbled hearing, insomnia and alarming memory lapses. Concussion symptoms are supposed to clear up in a few weeks or months, but two years later, Hussey, 39, still has them. “At first I thought I was doing OK,” says Hussey, who is now posted at Fort Jackson, in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. “But as time went by, it got to where I couldn’t remember the names of guys I was deployed with. I was having difficulty concentrating. It started snowballing, and I was forgetting things and struggling to cope. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just affected everything I do.”single page